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The Guilt of Letting Myself Down Over and Over

Guilt and I spend a lot of time together. It is my closest friend, a friend I happen to despise. This is one bad relationship I don’t think will ever end. I feel guilty when I let anyone down, especially when that person is me. Multiple times a day I make promises to myself and multiple times a day I break those promises.

Lists are essentially promises to oneself. You plan to do each item on the list: make a phone call, clean the kitchen, have dinner with friends, pick up the house, etc. Organized folks will assign realistic dates to tasks. I give deadlines too; usually leaving 48 hours to accomplish all 12 items. Then berate myself for not taking care of them.

I’ve always had high expectations for myself. Even after all these years of migraine and chronic daily headache impeding my success, I think I can do more than I’m physically capable of. I believe I should be able to do everything I want or need to do, even without realistic parameters. Thus starts the cycle of self-blame and guilt.

Letting myself down — and feeling horrible about it — day after day haunts me. Being self-critical is my way of life. I don’t think being hard on myself is the only problem here, but don’t know what else is at work.

Triage is more important than source-sleuthing for now. Not calling myself a flake is probably a good start! After that I’m stuck. I can’t stop setting goals; that would be giving up on my life and giving in to migraine and chronic daily headache. Where is the line between labeling something as unrealistic or as a goal to strive for?

Prioritizing is the most obvious solution. Even that is confusing. How to prioritize when I might not get to the priorities? How do I choose what I really need to do? When do I choose what I want to do over what I need to do?

Learning to let go when I can’t follow through with myself seems helpful — and impossible. Cognitive behavioral therapy, perhaps the ideal solution, isn’t going to make it into my schedule anytime soon. Any suggestions?

photo credit: Raul_d50

19 Responses to The Guilt of Letting Myself Down Over and Over

  1. How about 1 of these ideas…
    1. Pick a day where your only goal is to NOT feel guilty. So that’s #1 on the list, with everything else coming after it.
    2. Or pick a day and decide on only 1 itsy-bitsy-teeny-weeny goal… perhaps making
    one phone call, perhaps admiring 1 thing the whole day…. Do it, then bask in feeling unguilty the whole day.

    I find that practicing not feeling guilty helps me be better at achieving it more often.

  2. Christy says:

    My life is in very disorganized survival mode lately. I don’t even make a real list, but I have a mental one. The top item is Go To Work. If I don’t go to work, nobody in my family has health insurance. Sometimes the idea that my whole life is devoted to making sure that my family can be tended to by medical professionals in the case of illness is depressing. Is that the only reason I’m on earth?

    That’s why the rest of my invisible list is stuff that will make me happy. Walk the dog. Sit on the roof. Do one yoga stretch. Read the comics. Be with my family. Watch the sun come up. Look at the stars.

    It’s not that I don’t do other stuff (dishes, groceries, laundry. . .), it’s just that they’re not important enough to make the list anymore.

  3. Kerrie says:

    Excellent suggestions. I’m going to try an unguilty day. I also love “do one yoga stretch” as an accomplishment. I’d never thought of it that way, but it *is* an accomplishment — certainly more so than casting longing glances at my yoga mat.

    Kerrie

  4. Beth says:

    Kerrie, I am struggling with this very problem right now. It’s a huge issue for anyone who lives with chronic illness. I have undifferentiated connective tissue disease, severe migraines, fibromyalgia, dysautonomia, Raynaud’s, IBS-C, and chronic myofascial pain. My daughters are almost 13 and 16 and had to learn fairly early in life that Mom can only do so much. I’m currently having a fatigue flare, which makes it difficult to accomplish much at all. Things are piling up so that I hardly know where to start (if I could). My family is supportive, but I’m disgusted with myself for not being able to take care of more than the most basic daily tasks. I don’t have any answers for you, but I wanted you to know you’re not the only one struggling. Maybe if our illnesses were visibly manifested, we wouldn’t be so hard on ourselves.

  5. I think I need to do an unguilty day, too. I like the idea of a happy list as well, like look at the stars, pet my cat, etc…

  6. wiley-5 Melissa says:

    Reading what you wrote is like you have jumped into my mind and put into words what I have been trying to explain to myself and others. It was almost creepy as I was reading what you wrote, it was as if you were writing a play about my life. I write lists upon lists and at the end of the day all I can focus on is the things that I did not get done. This happens day after day. I do not see what I did get done. I beleive that I have taken the statement of I will not let my CDH get me down to the extreme.

    So I am not one to give advice since I am in the same cycle but recently my husband has given me the task of throughout the day when I am making my list to also right a list of everything that I do do in a day, get out of bed, shower, breakfast dinner and so on. He wants me to see all the things that I do accomplish being in pain, even the littlest things can be accomplishments. So I will let you know how that goes and if it works maybe I can be on to something.

  7. Paula says:

    Boy, I could really relate to this post. I seem to spend most of my time feeling guilty about not being the person I used to be (before headaches) and not being able to get things done. I hate letting people down. Thank you all for your helpful, thoughtful comments.

  8. kate says:

    Hi Kerrie –
    You have described what I seem to feel EVERY DAY. I always have a gnawing feeling that I “should” be able to do more, accomplish more, help out more, etc.

    I make lists, or sometimes have just one goal, and it gets so discouraging day in and day out to make no headway. I often have ideas that I eventually just give up on.

    I find it discouraging that mundane tasks like groceries and dishes are the great accomplishments in my life now, tasks that leave me no energy left over to do anything creative or new. Yes, I’m glad that there has been some progress that allows me to do the groceries on a good day, BUT it seems I’ve been at that plateau for a while now, and I want more. I want more, but can’t seem to get there.

    Sorry to ramble so long. I have no helpful ideas today, but lots of empathy! Thanks for writing about this – you SO often discuss exactly what I’m struggling with.
    Thanks, -Kate

  9. becky says:

    I totally know what you mean about the guilt. Mine usually centers around all the events/holidays/vacations I’ve ruined because I’m sick. I’m pretty good at putting on a brave front, but sometimes all I can do is be in bed, and that’s when I feel the most guilty.

    But as for accomplishing things day-to-day, I really just decide what’s most important: my husband and my son. That’s it. My job can go take a flying leap. So, if I miss a deadline, well that’s just too bad. But I refuse to miss putting my son to bed. I’ve done it while being close to vomiting, I hurt so bad. But I never want him to miss out on stuff because of me.

    I have a friend with rheumatoid arthritis who has a son close to my son in age. She is my role model in terms of not being guilt-ridden. Pain is a way of life for her as well, and she is more crippled by it than I am, on a day-to-day basis. She just takes it all in stride. We can’t do it all, nor should we want to.

    I suppose the only thing we should try to accomplish is to make it through the day without making our lives worse by beating ourselves up.

  10. Sue says:

    I like the suggestions here! Guilt and I are pretty tight these days too. Most days I think I over-compensate and do more than I would “normally” do (whatever “normal” used to be) just so that I don’t have to feel guilty about doing less. The result is that at the end of the day I’m exhausted and more sore than ever. Vicious circle.

    I demand more of myself than I would ever ask of anyone else – especially someone else with a chronic illness. I’m doing the CBT thing and starting to work on all of this, but it’s so very difficult.

  11. bureinato says:

    I have to work on this myself. I’m fairly well functioning all things considered. But I get tired so fast when I do chores that I feel disheartened fast. I am working on accepting my slower pace, breaking down projects into small pieces. And on applying the 80/20 rule, just working on the important 20% of the things I think I need to do. But figuring out what the important 20% is hard for me.

  12. Joy says:

    What a brilliant post! It’s what I WISH I had written in my own blog. (There I go… guilt about letting myself down.)

    Most of the time now I’m migraine free, but I know what my triggers are – and they include late nights and getting stressed about things. And whammy, my body punishes me for it. So why do I keep repeating the same old mistake?

    But instead of knocking myself again, I’m going to think positive. Some great ideas above. Really love the idea of putting a “good for me” goal on my list of jobs each day.

    My Dad told me that the last thing I should do each day before I went to sleep was to review the day, what goals (even minor ones) I had achieved, and what I had done that left the world a better place for me having been in it. And that can include my family world, it doesn’t have to be the big wide world.

    Thanks everybody for sharing your thoughts and ideas.

  13. Cyndi says:

    Dear Kerrie,
    It never ceases to amaze me how your thoughts and emotions so perfectly mirror my own. I cannot thank you enough or explain it clearly enough.

    I am using a book called Feeling Good by David D. Burns, for cognitive therapy. So difficult with millions of books out there which ones are worthy of our time. I only found cognitive therapy about a year and half ago, and only found this book last month.

    It seems intuitive and common sense, and yet making decisions from the questions you rose(and rise) just are not simple. This book is recommended throughout the world apparently, its been around since 1980 and it is worthy. Consider 5 min/day? That’s my goal. I’ve been reading one month now and it is helping.

  14. Megan Oltman says:

    Kerrie – This is a brilliant post and it sure speaks to our condition! I want you to know reading and commenting on this post has been on my list since Monday! (It’s only 3 days later, I guess that’s not too bad!) I could so relate to you and the other commenters. I have been saying for years that whenever I write a list of things to do today I write everything I need to accomplish in the next year. This was true even before I had frequent migraine, chronic fatigue, and ibs! The list doesn’t get any shorter, but my stamina is way less.

    I love the guilt-free day idea. And putting a self-care action (yoga stretch), or an enjoyment action (walk out and look at flowers) at the very top of the list. And remembering what’s most important (like putting my son to bed, as Becky said).

    I think one of the keys to managing our lives with migraine (and other chronic conditions) is that we can use lists to keep track of what we want to accomplish, and of where we are, and of what we don’t want to forget, rather than to make us feel guilty! Easier said than done? I’m writing more on this right now, can’t fit a lot in here, but I wrote a managing/lists post on my blog recently and will be putting some more into my newsletter. I divide my lists up into areas based on my priorities (such as “daily care,” “having fun,” “making a living,” etc.). Then I can decide which are the absolute basics and which would be nice to get to if I can. And I am sure to include a list of what I am not going to get to now or any time soon. That way I can let go of those things – they’re out of my head, they’re on paper, I can check the list from time to time and do those things if I feel like it.

    Anyway, I’d better stop before I write a book here! Thanks for the great topic! – Megan

  15. Amal says:

    I always feel so guilty when i put myself in to unknown hopes , dream widely , expect alot of myself , but suddenly at a moment all the things vanish . And i hate it when that happens co’z i regret alot and feel guilty . Sometimes i keep saying that i shouldn’t push to much on myself , and i should take it easy . Yet, these bad thoughts always come in my mind . that i am depressed and migraine makes its come over and over .

  16. Megan C says:

    A friend was talking to me about this very topic over thanksgiving the problem i face like kerrie is doing the things you have to do vs the things you want to do. I am in graduate school and have headache daily i can only read so much every day and i need to keep studying and reading yet i rather sleep or do crafts. i am still trying to find my balanace and not beat myself up over it.

  17. Julie W, says:

    Thank you for this post. I am a fellow guilt/migraine sufferer. I have had migraines for 30 years, the last 20 being very frequent. I eventually had to quit my job and have not been working for since 2006, one of my big sources of guilt. I think finding balance is the key though I have not been able to find it. The more I do in my life the more migraines I have. The less I do the more guilt I have, a vicious cycle.

  18. Nicole says:

    I have started doing more for other people in my life – when I can and feel up to it. It is helping to break the loneliness and guilt cycle. It is helping to break the cycle of being superwoman and not showing my weakness. My friend said to me the other day he thinks I’m misunderstood. Now when I have down days, I call on people for help. I realize, whatever it is can wait a day, and I’m really just calling to know that I’m not alone. Someone always comes through. People understand what I face now, and they often tell me when I need to slow down and rest – something I am bad at – always trying to sieze every moment until I run myself back down. Letting other people IN has been a wonderful thing to do. Not everyone will understand, sure. But a lot of people will, and they can provide perspective when we need it most.

  19. Carmen says:

    I’m so glad I found this blog. I can totally relate to what everyone is saying. Lately I’ve been living in bed. My greatest accomplishments are to make sure my son has food to eat, and my bills are paid. On my good days when I can go shopping, I try to stockpile. I take care of all my bills once a month. That leaves plenty of time for sick days. I do feel really guilty that I can no longer work. I’m pretty much just in survival mode right now

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